Angie's LIST Guide to
Dog Training

When is it time to professionally train your dog? Find out what experts recommend, from training puppies to the average cost of an obedience training session.
 

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Dog training can be basic or advanced, and can be accomplished in a group or individual setting. Here, a large group of dogs lay politely while their owners stand by. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Elaine T.)
Dog training can be basic or advanced, and can be accomplished in a group or individual setting. Here, a large group of dogs lay politely while their owners stand by. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Elaine T.)
 
 

What do I need to know about dogs?

Dogs don’t understand English, but their humans will be able to communicate more effectively with dogs if they understand some basics, say experienced dog trainers:

  • Dogs are pack animals, and they will be more relaxed and less prone to behavioral problems if you’re the pack leader. Your job is to meet your dog’s basic needs, define a clear structure with boundaries, supply attention and affection and protect your pet from harm.
  • Be aware of your body language and how you use eye contact, since these are ways dogs determine your intentions.
  • Dogs learn by repetition, so don’t generalize. Be clear about what you want and be consistent in how you respond.

MORE: Teach your dog who's boss at home

What are the basics of dog training?

Dog training styles range from reward-based to military-style approaches. Classes may be taught in groups or individual sessions, at a facility or the owner’s home.

puppy training
This four-month-old puppy learned basic commands through an obedience program. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Stuart G.)

Some professionals offer boarding training, during which a dog spends days or weeks undergoing training at the facility, and the owner is later shown how to continue what was taught.

Training can have many objectives: socializing puppies, basic to advanced obedience, Canine Good Citizen certification, ability to do service work, or to compete in agility or other dog sport.

Training methods may focus on gestures, body language and voice tone, or may be reward-based, with treats or praise, or may include electronic collars or other correction tools.

Why hire a dog trainer?

Unwanted dog behavior can be more than annoying. Many of the 8 million pets taken in by U.S. shelters each year are abandoned because of behavior issues, and many end up euthanized, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Dog training
Angie's List can help you find a highly rated dog trainer in your area. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Claudia T.)

Training a dog to respond to basic commands, such as “come,” “sit” and “stay,” can help prevent problems and make living with a pet more enjoyable. But experts say it’s important to first consult a veterinarian, to rule out a physical cause for behavior issues.

There are many books and resources to guide you in training your pet, but highly rated trainers say benefits of working with a professional include:

  • Help in working through the frustration that can arise during training sessions.
  • Maximizing results for busy people.
  • Specific ideas based on years of experience.

How do I find a good dog trainer?

To make sure you find the best fit for you and your dog's needs, follow these steps to find a reliable pet trainer in your area:

  • States don’t require that dog trainers be licensed, so ask about the trainer’s education, credentials and experience. Consider a trainer who’s a member of a professional organization, such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the Association of Canine Professionals.
  • Ask your vet for recommendations. Read reviews on Angie’s List. Seek and contact references, asking clients what their dog learned and in what time frame.
  • Interview potential trainers, asking for details about their training approach and techniques. Check into the differences in pace and expectations between individual and group instruction. Observe a class to make sure you agree with a trainer’s approach before paying. Also, ask for a money-back guarantee.
  • Make sure you hire a trainer who asks for your dog’s health records, to reduce the chance of disease spreading.

RELATED: Behaviorists help pets with problems

What do the professionals say?

Highly rated dog trainers from around the United States offer their advice:

dog practices command
Cooper, an American Staffordshire terrier, practices his "place" command. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Michelle B. of Fairfield, Ohio)

Consider the ingredients of successful training. Consistency, repetition, correction, praise, patience and — possibly most important — humor, will lead your dog to success.

Always follow through with whatever you’re asking the dog to do. Don’t repeat commands. If the dog isn't listening, add in a hand signal, or move in closer.

Be aware of your emotions and energy level. These directly affect your dog. Notice your voice inflection. Say “come” in a positive tone.

After feeding your dog, take away whatever he doesn't eat immediately. With housebreaking, remember that if you control what goes into the dog and when, you can control what comes out and when.

Keep training sessions short and positive. If progress lags, take a break and play.

Only pet your dog when you see desired behavior. This reinforces to your dog that he's doing what you want.

Figure out what your dog values most and make him work for them. For example, if your dog likes to play ball, make him sit before you throw the ball. Also, meal time is a good time to train. Feed the dog piece by piece as you teach something.

Regularly walk and exercise your dog. By doing so, you let the dog exert energy. Too much pent-up energy can result in a dog that misbehaves.

Set rules. If you're planning a family, put rules for your dog in place before the child arrives.

Be patient. Remember that an old dog can learn new tricks, though it may take longer than with a young one.

What does Angie suggest?

Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, learned the following when she sent her yellow lab to dog training camp:

  • Don’t use “no” as a command, especially in a house with small children where the word might frequently be heard. Use specific command words.
  • If the dog doesn’t respond to a command the first time, don’t just repeat it. Dogs may try to see what they can get away with. Instead of issuing the command again, use a disciplinary term that lets the pup know you mean business.
  • Dog owners must remain committed to training. A quality trainer can get you on the right track, but if you don’t reinforce the good habits, bad habits will likely return.

RELATED: How training a dog could make you a better parent

How much does dog training cost?

The cost of dog training varies widely. Some animal trainers base their prices on an hourly basis per training session your dog attends. Others offer prices for a package of multiple sessions over a period of a few weeks.

Angie’s List members report paying an average of $448 for training. The American Kennel Club advises people to prepare to spend $340 for initial training and supplies and $254 a year for ongoing training.

RELATED: Pet training by the numbers

Comments

looking for a reasonable dog trainer in my neighborhood.

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